Getting It Right in the Camera: The Truth, The Myth, The BS


“One should still try and get as close as possible to what you want in the initial click.”

A friend of a friend just pointed this out in a conversation we were all having on Facebook. It’s prompted me to say something. To explain what “getting it right in the camera” means to me now, and what it meant to me in the old days.

The experience is different for everyone. Each photographer wants to do something different in the camera. Each photographer feels the need to get certain things right in the camera. Always did, and still do.

If we are to take the idea of “getting it right in the camera,” we first have to decide what it is we want as a final product. Then we can begin to decide how much of that we can get IN the camera and what may need to be done OUT of the camera.

Between that first press of the shutter and the final, finished photo, there are many steps in between. Many possible “slips twixt cup and lip” as well.

Getting the exposure as good as possible and the composition spot-on: these are always what to strive for ‘in-camera’. The rest, I would suggest, was as up for discussion in 1960 or 1988 as it is now.


Too many people these days seem to get some sort of “pure as the driven snow” feeling from posting the acronym “SOOC” (Straight Out Of the Camera) next to their digital pics. It seems to make them feel as if they are being true to the “lets get it right in the camera” feel of the old days of film.

Well, SOOC in the old days meant, literally, an unprocessed roll of film. Unprocessed, unshareable. An event waiting to happen. Pictures still yet to be processed and fixed.

The notion that film was somewhat more pure than digital is, IMHO, horsesh*t. Film is, indeed, an analog experience. Organic. A chemical cocktail of pigs’ gelatin, silver, nitrates, bromides. It responds to light differently than the silicon-based sensors in our digital cameras. It is very different to digital. No doubt.

I still feel that exposing a piece of paper to light, putting that paper in a dish of liquid and then watching the image appear before my eyes is the closest thing I will ever get to performing alchemy… and performing miracles.


I often thought, on those long, red-lit days in the darkroom that if some other magic had occurred to see me transported in time, and that I had opened the door of the darkroom to find myself in the year 1524, I would have been dragged out and burned at the stake for crimes of witchcraft.

Fast-forward to 2013 and my even more witchcraft-like Nikon DSLR. What does “getting it right in the camera” mean to me? Getting enough right in the camera. It was always thus. There was a percentage of that final product — which started out as an image pre-visualized in my head — that was done IN the camera and done OUT of the camera.

What was, shall we say, “expected” from the camera very largely depended on what was possible OUTside of the camera. Those parameters have now changed. I can now do a lot more outside of my camera, more quickly, more conveniently and with the lights on than I ever could back in 1988 with my F3, tanks of chems and a stash of Agfa Grade 3 paper.

About the author: Alfie Goodrich is a British photographer and photography teacher based in Tokyo, Japan. He has shot for publications including BBC, TIME, and the Wall Street Journal. You can find his photos on Flickr and his writing at Japanorama. This post originally appeared here.

Image credits: Photographer, Camera and Tripod: Shadow Self Portrait, Spirit Within by Dominic’s pics, Camera expo by auggie tolosa, Exposed Darkroom by Gamma-Ray Productions

  • E

    I’ve always felt that SOOC is part snobbery, and mostly a misunderstanding that comes from people who have either never shot film, or shot film but never developed so they don’t realise that the process from having an exposed film to developing it and making prints also includes decisions (or processing).

    Sure there are things you should get right, or as right as needed, in camera, but why deny yourself the possibility of making the picture even better in post? Why should doing in-camera processing (where you’re working with the camera makers limitations) be purer than post-processing a raw file anyway?

  • Greg Heller

    I’ve always felt that SOOC is all snobbery – and quite frankly probably most of them aren’t totally truthful in my opinion.

  • Matt

    Yep, it is one part of the process. Not the entire process.

  • Banan Tarr

    SOOC!!! (oh yeah I forgot to add, my camera is set to Landscape mode, +4 sharpness, +4 contrasts and +5 saturation. oops)

  • Dave Robertson

    It can be SOOC and still SUCK. Just saying. :) But this article hit the nail on the head, in film days you ALWAYS had to process your photos, dodging and burning etc. For me, getting the exposure right has always been my major concern, along with composition. What is right for landscape is not the same for portraiture…. especially studio where you “should” have total control of your environment… unless there are toddlers. :)

  • Mike


  • John Adkins

    To me, “straight out of the camera” means a photo that’s good enough to stand on its own as a finished image without any post work being done. It’s a pretty simple idea really, regardless whether you like to shoot like that or not.

    Sometimes, I prefer to get shots that require little to no editing, and then other times I shoot with the intentions of doing a lot of creative post work.

  • tttulio

    It is not snoberry, just like when Cartier-Bresson left the edges in his pictures. It means i Din’t try to improve it in the darkroom, it is as it is, warts and all.

    All those people who have mediocre pictures and think by adding some filter to it it will make it better…

  • ietion

    i do mark my ‘sooc’ pics as ‘sooc’ for one reason: one can see what it can be done with the specific camera and the specific lens if say, he wants to buy the same and he is looking for samples to get a rough idea.

  • derekdj

    I think many people who use the term SOOC don’t understand the history of photography. Today’s digital post processing is akin to the darkroom (no coincidence that Lightroom, Photoshop and others use the same terminologies). Everyone from Stieglitz to Bresson used printers to apply a variety of darkroom enhancements on their final prints; Bresson notoriously had his printer go through hundreds of revisions, dodging, burning before signing off on his work. If you look at negatives and final prints from Avedon, contemporaries like Seliger and Leibovitz the photos are almost always “sweetened” during the printing process.

    Now if you’re a photojournalist or reportage photographer and engage in blatant photo manipulation, that’s a different story.

  • Peter Böszörményi

    why is it such a bad thing to improve it in the darkroom?

  • Kay O. Sweaver

    This article could have been one paragraph long and still conveyed the same information. I challenge Alfie to spend more than half an hour writing and really dig into the meat of what post-processing means then and now. This is just a rehashing of half of the comment threads on this site.

  • G

    I agree that there isn’t necessarily anything wrong using a picture straight out of camera, but if you go to for instance flickr* you get pretty fed up with how people try to present them self as better because it is SOOC. I’m sure not all do it to prop themselves up, but all to often pictures labeled SOOC tend to include shallow depth of field, lens flare and sunsets (with in camera settings set all over the top)..all the cheap tricks to try and make a boring picture interesting. That’s why I have an issue with the term at least.

    *Could be this isn’t the case anymore, I’ve stopped using flickr.

  • G

    Why not have a mediocre picture with slightly better contrast than the jpeg straight out of camera? What would the ‘master’ do you think? In Cartier-Bresson’s time you could make a print without having to make a decision on something like this.

  • John Adkins

    I agree that the term SOOC probably has some disambiguation associated with it, but images straight out of the camera is not a new concept.

    I’ve had clients that wanted files, literally, straight out of the camera and were there with you while you were shooting, so if you couldn’t get the images done right in camera, you didn’t get the work.

    I’ve handed off rolls of film to editors before as well. I’m not saying they don’t do something with the files after the fact, but if you’re not giving them near perfect files there on the spot, you will cease to get that kind of work.

  • Jake

    Not to mention the plethora of on-board special effects. Does faux-tilt/shift on my Canon Elph count as SOOC?

  • Burnin Biomass

    I think Ansel Adams quote for an interview (for Playboy) says a lot…

    “Adams: There’s no end in sight. Electronic photography will soon be superior
    to anything we have now. The first advance will be the exploration of
    existing negatives. I believe the electronic processes will enhance
    them. I could get superior prints from my negatives using electronics.”

  • stonefoto

    Well said…unless, of course, you were shooting color slides. Then you really did pretty much have to get it right in camera (not counting cross processing and ship tests…which I always thought were for wimps anyway).

  • Neoracer Xox

    Use all your tools to the max, the final product is what counts. PERIOD.

  • GlenF

    This article says amazingly little about what “enough” SOOC actually means these days. So, you can do a lot more outside of the camera. Get the exposure right. What is “right” exposure? (and for what). Really I found this to be a vacuous article.

  • harumph

    I just watched a documentary on HCB, and one scene showed one of his printer/developers going over every fine detail of shading in his prints. Did you really think that he was just mindlessly cranking out his prints without any improvement at all?

  • jhaces

    Ken Rockwell, is that you? ;)

  • bob cooley

    In some cases it might be snobbery, but for those making a living at photography, it should be about best-practices.
    Sure, you can do a lot of post-production pretty easily today, but for those of us who used to shoot corporate reports, portraits, magazine work, etc. in color slide, getting it right in-camera was essential. You put a lot more time into framing, lighting, color correction because you were handing in original slides to your client.

    I’m not waxing nostalgic or neurotic about the ‘good ole days’ – frankly, it was a pain, and could be fairly nerve-racking waiting to see the results on the film that you just gave to the lab (even if you did shoot polariod proofs).

    But living by the practice of HAVING to get it right the first time, and not being able to chimp your shots does make you take more care in all aspects of what you are creating. You slow down and take more care.

    I love that I can fix and polish my work in post where it needs it, but following best practices is never a bad thing.

    Thinking harder about your backgrounds, composition, lighting, exposure, etc. is only going to make you a stronger image-maker. Those best-practices never hold you back.

    it can be the difference between a great image and “seen it done, seen it done better…”

  • bbb62

    When people talk to me of SOOC and when they say that they would never use photoshop – it brings to mind the old days… In those old days people who did not modify their pictures (by using filters on camera for example) or do any work on them in the darkroom generally took their stuff to a high street machine processor. They got their snaps processed and had nothing to do with processing. They were thought of as “not proper photographers” as they had no idea how to use a darkroom or an enlarger or how to expose their images to paper, choosing the grades of paper for best effect.. etc. It seems to me SOOC and a rule that Photoshop is the spawn of Satan is much the same thing. Just a bunch of people who like camera gear but can’t be bothered how to learn how to finish their photos properly and out of insecurity about their lack of knowledge make out that this is some kind of virtue. Imagine how ridiculous it would’ve sounded in the film days “Oh no, I never TOUCH a darkroom – that’s cheating. I have all my pics printed and presented SOOS = “Straight Out of Supasnaps”.

  • Kevin Fulton

    I don’t think he was suggesting that it’s a bad thing, just that too many people rely on it in a negative way. Example: Boring subject and poor composition, but attempting to make the photo interesting with heavy use of HDR, Dodge and Burn, or Photofilter/texture. There’s nothing wrong with post processing, but too many people skip the fundamentals. Developing your fundamentals by refusing it to post process is not snobbery, but it’s a great challenge :)

  • E

    He also did crop, so didn’t leave the edges. For instance one of his most famous pictures (man jumping over puddle and reflected in it) is cropped.

  • Joakim Bidebo

    All my photos are always SOOC (Straight Out Of the Computer)

  • Banan Tarr

    lol’d. if I was Ken I’d have also mentioned the green cast that only I can see and how I needed to bump the red saturation to compensate.

  • Alfie Goodrich

    Challenge accepted. :-)

  • Alfie Goodrich

    If you slip over to my Google Plus page the latest post, of the lady in the lingerie, has a typical explanation of the post pro I do now. Ballasts tend to share this sort of info…. and I’ll get to work on a piece that goes into depth about the thens and the nows of postpro. :-)

  • Alfie Goodrich

    Terrible autocorrect going on there… ballasts !! Should have been ‘I always tend to…. ‘

  • Jesse Taylor Photography

    SOOC is surely just shorthand for “as processed by the algorithm chosen by my camera manufacturer, and modified by any changes I have made to the in camera picture profiles”.

  • Mark Dub

    If I take a shot with my iPhone, pop it in Snapseed, maybe PS Express, then lob it in Instagram for some borders and effects and upload it.. Isn’t this “technically” SOOC right? :P

  • Pncttn

    that is indeed a good question

  • Simon Forsyth

    The idea that we shot film and the pictures were straight out of the camera is pure and utter crap. Sure getting composition right in camera is the best thing but not always possible.
    Getting exposure right in camera is something to aim for, but what is correct exposure? What may be correct to me could be different to someone else. It comes from what the photographer envisages when he takes the photograph. Ansel Adams previsualised how he wanted the image to look like as a print and altered exposure and development to ensure that he could print it that way. But he changed the way he printed images over time. If you look at early prints of Moonrise over Hernandez you will see they are printed completely differently to later prints. To me the later prints are much better but that is just my opinion. The two prints are so different that if you didn’t know the story you would swear they were from different negatives.
    Experienced photographers mostly did things in the darkroom to make up for the shortcomings of the film just as we do now with digital. Our eyes respond differently to film and paper so we have to compensate for this.
    Quite frankly of you proudly say that the image is “Straight out of Camera” then to me it means you haven’t got the best image you can, not that you are great!

  • bob cooley

    In film days most of us working commercially shot about 80% of our work on chrome. There was no dodging and burning the things we turned into magazines, catalogs or corporate reports….

  • Bill Magee

    I don’t think of “straight out of the camera” as being a badge of honor, but too many photographers are really just editors in disguise. If I buy a paint-by-numbers kit that doesn’t make me a painter. Vision is only half of the artistic whole, Technique is the other. Intentionally adding a soft focus effect to a photo because you missed the focus point isn’t an artistic choice, it’s trying to cover up a mistake. There we find neither vision nor technique. If you want to be a photographer you should desire to perfect the craft of photography, so you don’t HAVE to rely on retouching.

  • Neal Kernohan

    That would be SOOP (straight out of phone)

  • Peter Blake

    assume that meant clip tests? dodgy old process if you ask me, cut right thru yer best neg, no thanks? John Adkins’ comment about handing film direct to editors rings true. a few rolls of E6 that ‘mistakenly’ got processed C41….cross processing that I never intended but it turned out to be a happy accident. that time

  • robinhurricane

    Articles (and comments) about SOOC invariably focus on how manipulating an image in Photoshop or Lightroom is the same as old school developing of prints. That’s not the point. Photography and developing are two separate skill sets that produce the same final product: a picture. There are Pulitzer Prize winning photos that were never developed by the photographer; the image of the fireman carrying a child in the Oaklahoma bombing is one of those. Skilled photographers that denograte Photoshop are focused on the artistry of shooting a photograph. It’s not snobbery, it’s a different field completely. And anyone who says that film developing is “really the same as” Photoshoping a picture hasn’t mastered Photoshop. It’s an amazing tool that can transform an image into something completely different. If you want to say, “I’m a photographer” then learn to shoot a perfect picture. Bresson and others were dadging and burning to improve the short-comings of their photos, because the “perfect picture” is allusive at best. If you want to say, “I produce beautiful photographic images,” than use Photoshop to do so. Master that, and you can take a truly crappy photo and turn it into something wonderful. But they are two different arts.

  • *✩‿✩*


  • hvranic

    Picture on the wall (last red picture, 2 faces) in the lab is brilliant

  • G

    *couldn’t make a print

  • Ken Elliott

    Why do people not mark photos as SOOP – Straight-Out-Of-Photoshop? Simple – it is a point of pride that one can operate a camera with enough skill to create an image with zero feedback at the time of shooting (color slide film). This is much easier in the digital realm, as you have instant feedback. But today’s cameras are so complex that it is still a point of pride. My Leica IIIf has 8 controls. My Nikon F4 has 16 controls. I think I counted over 200 settings in a D200, and the D800 is far more complex.

    Ansel Adams pre-visualized the print, decided how he would process the print, then shoot the negative to gather the data needed to support the process. His SOOC shot often looked poor, unless he printed it as planned.

    If I plan to do little post processing (i.e. event work), then I want good images SOOC. But if I plan to do extensive post, then I treat the camera as a PID (Photoshop Input Device).

  • DaveFP

    Great article and great comments. Nice to see what have felt in print and shared with others .

    The only time I want to know if a file is sooc is when is being represented as a typical example of a particular products capabilities.

  • Zos Xavius

    I think that digital has completely changed post processing. The darkroom is very limiting and challenging compared to the ease of doing massive manipulations digitally. The direction I see photography going in is towards even more extensive post processing, so I kind of get the SOOC movement even if those people don’t realize they are limiting their ability to reclaim highlights and shadows and make better images. Its like the modern day equivalent of the straight movement. I do like straight photography, but even the best “straight” photographers still did a good deal of dodging and burning in the darkroom. They wanted better images too.

  • Zos Xavius

    Adams: My Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico has the emotion and the feeling that the experience of seeing the actual moonrise created in me, but it is not at all realistic. Merely clicking the camera and making a simple print from the negative would have created a wholly different–and ordinary–photograph. People have asked me why the sky is so dark, thinking exactly in terms of the literal. But the dark sky is how it felt.

  • J. Rae Photojournalist

    To me, SOOC means simply “straight out of camera.” The author can lose the part about people who use it being arrogant and smug about it. It’s a style just like HDR. The fact that it is written about in such a way to paint others as jerks to me seems….. like it is written by a smug, arrogant person — the person he is accusing SOOC people of being. If people accuse me of being arrogant when I write SOOC then they are overly-sensitive, taking my words out of context, or assuming me to be someone I am not. I often write SOOC so that a buyer (magazine, newspaper etc.) knows that my photojournalism follows the rules the industry has set. It’s something for my own use and not to tell others they are inferior etc. If someone feels inferior because of my work, that’s an issue with their own self esteem and not my stating the style in which I chose to express the photo.

    There are some fields of photography that do not allow processing… such as photojournalism. It’s just not allowed. Period. It doesn’t matter if people like processing better. It’s not allowed. It doesn’t matter if people got it “good enough” in camera and want to fix something… it’s not allowed. Why is it not allowed? Because processing is seen as changing the photo to not be journalistically accurate. It is seen as a lie, and is as punishable in the industry as when a reporter states something that is untrue. So in order to be a successful photojournalist, one must get it perfectly correct in camera and not just “close enough.” Whether or not I or anyone else agrees that it is a lie does not matter because the industry just does not allow processing at all with very little exceptions.

    That is not to say that I don’t value the work of others who like to edit work, as long as they are not working in the photojournalism field. Everyone has the right to do his art his own way. I sometimes process my work if it is for a genre that is not photojournalism… like horror or portraits. Sometimes I don’t, and that’s my right. It’s your right to process your photos all the time. Who the heck cares? Art is an expression of the artist, so just let people do what they want with their own masterpieces.

  • cheap shots for real

    ditto. SOOC for the most is plenty, if not all about snobbery saying their snapshots rule because they are not edited. yet covering up the fact that you had no idea what you were doing while shooting with some cheap photoshop filters and tricks is an equally bad choice. photoshopping isn’t a shortcut to success in anyways if you have no concept of photography as art in a whole.

    if you are just another camera happy digitalist, you may get it right in-camera once in a while and call it SOOC then. other times you may get a highly creative picture by enhancing an any-shot in digital post, and that’s alright as long as neither of the approaches are used to justify an indifferent shot without conceptual nor aesthetic relevance. what defines the relevance is a whole different matter to discuss.

    slide photography on film was pure SOOC, everything that is printed from a neg is not. digital is never pure SOOC, it always applies some digital algorithms to create the picture which is always dependent of what camera, which model or settings one uses. hats of for those who try and simulate the slide shooting methods on digital, but for the rest 99.99% of digitalists SOOC is snobbery.

  • Alfie Goodrich

    Clip-tests were often essential if you planned on shooting an entire job for a client on a single batch of film.